When Megan met Robert she was not a senior citizen. That’s the main thing she wants you to understand here.
“Don’t call me an old lady in your story,” she tells me over the phone.
So yes, she was older. Yes, she had AARP. Certainly, she can still remember what life was like when Elvis starred in “Blue Hawaii” and people still called it “oleo.” But she was not a senior citizen when she met Robert.
She was white-haired, she lived by herself, and she was lonely. And nobody tells you how bad loneliness can hurt.
Ideally, you are born into a non-lonely world. You get a mom, a dad, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, a cat, a dog, a goldfish. You grow up around lots of people. Your sister is always braiding your hair. Your brother is always placing toads into your chest of drawers. Dad is always complaining about not leaving the lights on in the other room. Mom is always there to kiss your boo-boos.
Then comes the loneliness. It happens later in life. And it happens gradually. You make a lot of decisions that end up leading you there.
You move away from home. You don’t talk to your family much anymore because your sister lives in California. Your parents pass away. You get married, but it doesn’t last. Soon you are living in an apartment. Alone.
And years go by.
So that’s how it happened. Megan was alone. It wasn’t misery per se. Her routine was a normal one. She worked at a library, which kept her pretty busy. She went to church, she made lots of casseroles, she volunteered. But something was missing.
“It’s discouraging being alone,” Megan tells me. “You never have anything to get excited about, ‘cause it’s just you.”
Years turned into decades. Decades turned into more decades. Her most loyal friend was “Wheel of Fortune” and her cat, George.
One day, she got a call from another close friend, Carolyn, who is also not a senior citizen. Carolyn had signed up to go on an all-seniors cruise. She invited Megan to go, even though—and I can’t stress this enough—these women were not senior citizens.
That night, Megan stayed up late, looking at internet pictures of tropical islands, blue water, and cruise ships. A cruise. What was she thinking? It was irrational. It was expensive. It was stuff children did. It was perfect.
There is nothing quite like a cruise ship to readjust your way of thinking. You meet a lot of respectable people from all walks of life who are thrust into a sudden party environment.
It only takes a few days to get into the spirit of a cruise. Pretty soon, even straight-laced tee-totallers who sing tenor in the church choir are carrying ice buckets of Budweiser to the pizza buffet for a late breakfast.
Megan had fun. There was music, karaoke, and white hair everywhere.
She did just about everything that you’d expect a big group of 70-year-old non-senior citizens to do. She did the foxtrot, sipped piña coladas, she got onstage to sing a duet with a Phillipino Elvis impersonator.
“That’s when I met Robert.”
Enter Robert. He was a tall guy. Not much hair left. Big smile. Tap-water blue eyes. He sat at her group table for dinner that night. She liked him.
Robert was a retired undertaker, so dinner conversation was a little weird. Actually, it was very weird. It was unbearably awkward for some of the other seniors who were not thrilled to be discussing things like buying brand-name caskets for under $1000.
Undertakers, Megan tells me, have a notoriously odd sense of humor. They tell jokes about things that most older people don’t like to think about.
“But he was sweet,” Megan points out. “Sweetest man I ever knew.”
They hit it off. That night, they visited the main deck together beneath the stars. They walked around the ship while he puffed a cigar.
They confided in each other. She told him she was alone. He told her he was, too. He told her that he didn’t usually smoke cigars. She told him she didn’t usually date men who put makeup on dead people.
“I missed talking,” she says. “That’s what Robert gave me, he gave me conversation.”
They talked until the sun came up over the South Pacific.
Megan admits that finding romance on a cruise ship was like one big daydream.
Every morning, she’d exit her room to see Robert waiting for her. He’d lean onto the ship’s railing, wearing a Panama hat, smoking his Cuban. She would be dressed in gaudy resort clothing, and wearing print dresses that looked like multi-colored Hawaiian hallucinations.
After the cruise, Robert came to visit her at home. He drove a long way to see her little apartment in Florida.
“I knew I loved him,” she says.
They married later that year. It was impulsive, it was irrational. It was perfect. And they went on six more cruises throughout their marriage. Six. Not including their trip to Iceland.
“He taught me how to live to the fullest,” she says. “That’s one thing an undertaker will teach you, they know so much about how precious life is, and they don’t waste it.”
Robert is gone now. He died during complications involving pneumonia. Next week Megan is about to move into an assisted living facility, she has no regrets in this life. She is not sad. Neither is she lonely anymore. And in her new nursing home, Megan plans on teaching other seniors how to deal with loneliness. Even though—let the record show—she is not a senior citizen.
Rest easy, Robert. And long live love.